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Jeremy Scahill | The Nation

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Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill

Dispatches on wars, the military-industrial complex and national security.

US Delivering F-16s to Pakistan This Weekend

This weekend, Pakistan's air force is about to get a lot more fierce. The American Forces Press Service reports, "Three F-16s are scheduled to arrive in Pakistan on June 26, with 15 more to be delivered later this year and next, Air Force Maj. Todd Robbins, the Pakistan country director in the office of the undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, said in an interview with American Forces Press Service. 'This is the most visible part of a strong and growing relationship between the two air forces that will benefit us both near-term and long-term,' Robbins said." According to the AFPS:

The F-16 is a multirole jet fighter sold to 24 countries around the world, according to its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. The 18 being sold to Pakistan are the Block 52 versions of the aircraft, Robbins said, which will give Pakistan new capabilities, including day-night, all-weather and precision-attack capabilities.

“They’ve not had [these capabilities] before, so this is a major milestone in the U.S. providing this capability, which older models [of F-16s] don’t have,” he said. “This will enable them to strike terrorists within their borders while helping them to avoid collateral damage. It’s an increase in capabilities that are beneficial to us all.”

Pakistan is paying $1.4 billion for the 18 new aircraft, in addition to $1.3 billion in upgrades to its existing F-16 fleet, which are to begin being delivered in 2012, Robbins said.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today he will travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan very soon. For more on the F-16s to Pakistan, check out my story, "Pakistan's Two Air Wars."

Of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Blackwater (UPDATED)

The mercenary firm Blackwater is clearly more teflon than Gen. Stanley McChrystal. While McChrystal sips Bud Light Lime, watching Talladega Nights and ponders what private sector job to scoop up, Erik Prince's crusading private soldiers will still be running around Afghanistan and other theaters of undeclared US wars globally with the CIA. All with the blessing of the Commander in Chief.

While President Obama sacked McChrystal after comments attributed to him and his inner circle were published in a now infamous Rolling Stone article, Blackwater is being rewarded with new contracts despite its track record of scores of acts of misconduct, including allegations of murdering and manslaughtering civilians, weapons charges, conspiracy and obstruction of justice to name a few.

Given McChrystal's alleged involvement in the torture of detainees at Camp Nama in Iraq, his primary role in the cover-up of Pat Tillman's death and other dark acts involving his time commanding the Joint Special Operations Command under the Bush-Cheney administration, McChrystal should have never been named commander in Afghanistan. When he was appointed, Obama sent a message about the kind of policy he wanted in Afghanistan--one which favored unaccountable, unattributable direct action forces accustomed to operating in secret and away from effective oversight. Indeed, in the Rolling Stone article, McChrystal appeared to admit his famous commitment to decreasing civilian deaths was a sham operation. According to Rolling Stone: "'You better be out there hitting four or five targets tonight,' McChrystal will tell a Navy Seal he sees in the hallway at headquarters. Then he'll add, 'I'm going to have to scold you in the morning for it, though.'"

President Obama was right to fire McChrystal (technically he accepted his resignation)--it should have happened long ago. That McChrystal was fired for the Rolling Stone article, however, and not for the way he prosecuted the Afghan war speaks volumes about the administration's Afghanistan position and policy vision (not to mention that Dick Cheney's general, David Petraeus, was named as McChrystal's successor).

Contrast Obama's McChrystal treatment with his Blackwater treatment.

In January, two Blackwater operatives were indicted on murder charges stemming from a shooting in Afghanistan in May 2008. In March, Senator Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called on the Justice Department to investigate Blackwater's use of a shell company, Paravant, to win training contracts in Afghanistan. On June 11, federal prosecutors filed a massive brief in their appeal of last year's dismissal by a federal judge of manslaughter charges against the Blackwater operatives alleged to be the "shooters" at Nisour Square. Seventeen innocent Iraqis were killed in the shooting and more than 20 others wounded. In the brief, prosecutors asked that the indictment of the Blackwater men be reinstated. Then in April, five of Erik Prince's top deputies were hit with a fifteen-count indictment by a federal grand jury on conspiracy, weapons and obstruction of justice charges. Among those indicted were Prince's longtime number-two man, former Blackwater president Gary Jackson, former vice presidents William Matthews and Ana Bundy and Prince's former legal counsel Andrew Howell. Former Blackwater employees have made serious allegations in sworn declarations and in Grand Jury testimony about murder, gun smuggling, prostitution, destruction of evidence and a slew of other alleged crimes.

Clearly, none of this is cause for major concern at the White House.

Over the past two weeks, Blackwater has been awarded more than $200 million in new contracts by the Obama administration. One is a $120 million arrangement with the US State Department for security services in Afghanistan, the other, worth $100 million, is for protecting CIA operations and operatives in Afghanistan and other hot zones globally. Blackwater has spent heavily this year on lobbyists—particularly Democratic ones. In the first quarter of 2010, the company spent more than $500,000 for the services of Stuart Eizenstat, a well-connected Democratic lobbyist who served in the Clinton and Carter administrations. Eizenstat heads the international practice for the powerhouse law and lobbying firm Covington and Burling.

"Blackwater has undergone some serious changes," an unnamed U.S. official told The Washington Post. "They've had to prove to the government that they're a responsible outfit. Having satisfied every legal requirement, they have the right to compete for contracts. They have people who do good work, at times in some very dangerous places. Nobody should forget that, either."

 

Let's also not forget that like McChrystal, Erik Prince was recently featured in an entertainment magazine. In January, Vanity Fair profiled Prince. In the article Prince and his associates didn't speak disparagingly about the commander in chief or the vice president, but Prince did appear to reveal details of classified US operations and the existence of a covert CIA assassination team, trained and organized by Prince, that planned hits in various countries, including inside Germany, a key US ally.

Maybe if some reporter catches Erik Prince and his cronies engaged in drunken, profanity-laced diatribes aimed at the White House and Commander in Chief, something would really change. If they used the phrase "bite me" when speaking of the vice president or embarrassed poor little Richard Holbrooke or called the National Security Advisor a "clown," maybe the administration would decide it was inappropriate to continue Blackwater's "services."

There's no doubt, under the Uniform Code of Military Conduct, McChrystal was rightly relieved of his duties. But in the end, it was McChrystal's words--not his actions--that sunk his ship. Blackwater's ship of misconduct, crime and murder will apparently sail on for the foreseeable future, at least until their words, instead of their bullets, strike the wrong people.

UPDATE: I just interviewed Rep. Jan Schakowsky, the leading lawmaker opposing Blackwater. A member of the House Intelligence Committee, Schakowsky cannot confirm details of Blackwater's work for the CIA, but regarding the report they had been hired again by the CIA, she said: "It's just outrageous. What does Blackwater have to do to be determined an illegitimate player? While some of Blackwater's personnel do good work, its employees have proven to be untrustworthy with weapons in combat zones. Whether they are at the center of a mission or are doing static security, we should not be using Blackwater employees. The CIA should not be doing business with this company no matter how many name changes it undergoes." Schakowsky added: "If the reason for using Blackwater is that the government lacks capacity or can't find any reputable firm with this capacity, then that's a serious problem that needs to be confronted head on."

Obama Administration Keeping Blackwater Armed and Dangerous in Afghanistan

Blackwater is up for sale and its shadowy owner, Erik Prince, is rumored to be planning to move to the United Arab Emirates as his top deputies face indictment for a range of alleged crimes, yet the company remains a central part of President Obama's Afghanistan war. Now, Blackwater's role is expanding.

On Friday, the US State Department awarded Blackwater another "diplomatic security" contract to protect US officials in Afghanistan. CBS News reports that the $120 million deal is for "protective services" at the US consulates in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. Blackwater has another security contract in Afghanistan worth $200 million and trains Afghan forces. The company also works for the CIA and the US military and provides bodyguards for US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry as well as US lawmakers and other officials who visit the country. The company has four forward operating bases in Afghanistan and Prince has boasted that Blackwater's counter-narcotics forces have called in NATO airstrikes.

The new security contract was awarded to one of Blackwater's alter egos, the United States Training Center, despite the indictments of five senior company officials on bribery, weapons and conspiracy charges. Its operatives in both Afghanistan and Iraq have been indicted for killing innocent civilians. The Senate Armed Services Committee has called on the Justice Department to investigate Blackwater's use of a shell company, Paravant, to win training contracts in Afghanistan. Despite these and numerous other scandals, the State Department once again awarded the company a lucrative contract.

"Under federal acquisition regulations, the prosecution of the specific Blackwater individuals does not preclude the company or its successive companies and subsidiaries from bidding on contracts," a State Department spokesperson told CBS. "On the basis of full and open competition, the department performed a full technical evaluation of all proposals and determined the US Training Center has the best ability and qualifications to meet the contract requirements."

Representative Jan Schakowsky, who chairs the Intelligence Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, immediately blasted the State Department's awarding of the contract to Blackwater. "This is a company whose cowboy-like behavior has not only resulted in civilian deaths; it has also jeopardized our mission and the safety of U.S. troops and diplomatic personnel worldwide.  Instead of punishing Blackwater for its extensive history of serious abuses the State Department is rewarding the company with up to $120 million in taxpayer funds," Schakowsky said. “I strongly believe that the former Blackwater should not be receiving further U.S. contracts, and I have repeatedly urged the U.S. government to no longer do business with this company. Though the name Blackwater has become synonymous with the worst of contractor abuses, the bigger problem is our dangerous reliance on such companies for the business of waging war."

Earlier this year, Schakowsky and Senator Bernie Sanders reintroduced the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, which would phase out the use of private security contractors by the government. Ironically, Hillary Clinton was a co-sponsor of the legislation when she was a senator and running for president. Now, as Secretary of State, she is the US official in charge of most Blackwater contracts. Blackwater is also bidding on a contract potentially worth up to $1 billion to train the Afghan National Police.

Is Blackwater's Erik Prince Moving to the United Arab Emirates?

Sources close to Blackwater and its secretive owner Erik Prince claim that the embattled head of the world's most infamous mercenary firm is planning to move to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Middle Eastern nation, a major hub for the US war industry, has no extradition treaty with the United States. In April, five of Prince's top deputies were hit with a fifteen-count indictment by a federal grand jury on conspiracy, weapons and obstruction of justice charges. Among those indicted were Prince's longtime number-two man, former Blackwater president Gary Jackson, former vice presidents William Matthews and Ana Bundy and Prince's former legal counsel Andrew Howell. 

The Blackwater/Erik Prince saga took yet another dramatic turn last week, when Prince abruptly announced that he was putting his company up for sale.

While Prince has not personally been charged with any crimes, federal investigators and several Congressional committees clearly have his company and inner circle in their sights. The Nation learned of Prince's alleged plans to move to the UAE from three separate sources. One Blackwater source told The Nation that Prince intends to sell his company quickly, saying the "sale is going to be a fast move within a couple of months."

Mark Corallo, a trusted Prince advisor and Blackwater spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny the allegation that Prince is planning to move to the United Arab Emirates. "I have a policy on not discussing my client’s personal lives—especially when that client is a private citizen," Corallo, who runs his own crisis management and PR firm, said in an e-mail to The Nation. "It is nobody’s business where Mr. Prince (or anyone else) chooses to live. So I’m afraid I will not be able to confirm any rumors."

A source with knowledge of the federal criminal probe into Blackwater's activities told The Nation that none of Prince's indicted colleagues have flipped on Prince since being formally charged, but rumors abound in Blackwater and legal circles that Prince may one day find himself in legal trouble. Former Blackwater employees claim they have provided federal prosecutors with testimony about what they allege is Prince's involvement in illegal activity.

If Prince's rumored future move is linked to concerns over possible indictment, the United Arab Emirates would be an interesting choice for a new home—particularly because it does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. "If Prince were not living in the US, it would be far more complicated for US prosecutors to commence an action against him," says Scott Horton, a Columbia University Law lecturer and international law expert who has long tracked Blackwater. "There is a long history of people thwarting prosecutors simply by living overseas." The UAE, Horton says, is "definitely a jurisdiction where Prince could count on it not being simple for the US to pursue him legally."

The UAE is made up of seven states, the most powerful among them being Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Since 9/11, they have emerged as hubs for the US war industry. "Global service providers" account for some three-quarters of Dubai's GDP, while oil represents only 3 percent. "They have established themselves as the premiere location in the Middle East for offshore banking and professional services," says Horton, who has legal experience in the UAE. "If you have connections to the royal families, then the law doesn't really apply to you. I would be very surprised if Erik Prince does not have those kinds of connections there."

As a matter of policy the Justice Department will not discuss possible investigations of people who have not yet been charged with a crime.

Two former employees made serious allegations against Prince last August in sworn declarations filed as part of a civil lawsuit against Prince and Blackwater. One former employee alleged that Prince turned a profit by transporting "illegal" or "unlawful" weapons into Iraq on his private planes. A four-year employee of Blackwater, identified in his declaration as "John Doe #2," stated that "it appears that Mr. Prince and his employees murdered, or had murdered, one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information, to the federal authorities about the ongoing criminal conduct." He also stated that "Mr. Prince feared, and continues to fear, that the federal authorities will detect and prosecute his various criminal deeds," adding: "On more than one occasion, Mr. Prince and his top managers gave orders to destroy emails and other documents. Many incriminating videotapes, documents and emails have been shredded and destroyed."

John Doe #2's identity was concealed in the sworn declaration because he "fear[s] violence against me in retaliation for submitting this Declaration." He also alleged, "On several occasions after my departure from Mr. Prince's employ, Mr. Prince's management has personally threatened me with death and violence." Doe #2 stated in his declaration that he provided the information contained in his statement "in grand jury proceedings convened by the United States Department of Justice."

Prince is also facing civil lawsuits brought by Iraqi victims of Blackwater. Among these is a suit filed in North Carolina by the family of 9-year-old Ali Kinani. Kinani's family alleges he was shot in the head and killed by Blackwater operatives in the infamous Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad in 2007. Earlier this year, Prince claimed he was spending $2 million a month in legal fees and on what he described as a “giant proctological exam” by nearly a dozen federal agencies.

Even if prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to charge Prince with a crime, because of the classified nature of some of Blackwater and Prince's work for the CIA and other agencies of the US government, prosecuting him could prove challenging. Prince has deep knowledge of covert US actions that the US government or military may not want public, which could be revealed as part of a potential defense Prince could offer. Blackwater—and Prince specifically—long worked on the CIA's assassination program.

Some observers believe that Prince has already engaged in "graymail" by revealing some details of his classified work for the CIA and military, specifically in a January 2010 article in Vanity Fair, written by a former CIA lawyer. Graymail is a legal tactic that has been used for years by intelligence operatives or assets who are facing prosecution or fear they soon will be. In short, these operatives or assets threaten to reveal details of sensitive or classified operations in order to ward off indictments or criminal charges, based on the belief that the government would not want these details revealed.

After Jackson and the other former Blackwater executives were indicted, their lawyers claimed that the US government approved of their conduct. "All of this was with the knowledge of, the request of, for the convenience of, an agency of the US government," Jackson's lawyer Ken Bell told the judge during a bond hearing in April. Bell did not reveal which agency he was referring to and did not answer questions from reporters.

The latest developments in the Blackwater story come after a two-year campaign by Blackwater to rebrand itself as "Xe Services" and the "US Training Center." In March 2009, Prince announced he was stepping down as CEO of the company, though he has remained its sole owner. While Blackwater continues to be a significant player in US operations in Afghanistan under the Obama administration—working for the State Department, Defense Department and CIA—it is facing increased scrutiny on Capitol Hill and continued pressure from the Justice Department.

On June 11, federal prosecutors filed a massive brief in their appeal of last year's dismissal by a federal judge of manslaughter charges against the Blackwater operatives alleged to be the "shooters" at Nisour Square. In the brief, prosecutors asked that the indictment of the Blackwater men be reinstated. Meanwhile, two other Blackwater operatives were indicted in January on murder charges stemming from a shooting in Afghanistan in May 2008. Senator Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee has called on the Justice Department to investigate Blackwater's use of a shell company, Paravant, to win training contracts in Afghanistan.

Blackwater has been spending heavily this year on lobbyists—particularly Democratic ones. In the first quarter of 2010, the company spent more than $500,000 for the services of Stuart Eizenstat, a well-connected Democratic lobbyist who served in the Clinton and Carter administrations. Eizenstat heads the international practice for the powerhouse law and lobbying firm Covington and Burling.

Prince sold Blackwater's aviation division earlier this year for $200 million. In announcing last week that the rest of Blackwater was up for sale, the company said in a statement that Blackwater's "new management team has made significant changes and improvements to the company over the last 15 months, which have enabled the company to better serve the US government and other customers, and will deliver additional value to a purchaser." While Blackwater has tried to shed the Blackwater name in many aspects of its business, the company has recently opened a series of Blackwater "Pro-Shop" retail stores, offering merchandise bearing the Blackwater name and original logo. Among the items for sale: pink Blackwater baby onesies, Blackwater pint glasses, Blackwater beach towels and, of course, rifles.

In a speech in January, obtained by The Nation, Prince said that he intends to publish a book this fall. He was originally slated to come out with a book in June 2008 with the title We Are Blackwater.

Is the Obama Administration Planning to Use Bagram Like Gitmo?

The Obama administration is reportedly considering a plan to use Bagram prison in Afghanistan as a Guantánamo-style prison to hold and interrogate "terrorism suspects" captured in countries other than Afghanistan, including Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. Citing unnamed US officials, the Los Angeles Times reports that the United States is exploring a plan to "carve out a section of the prison for non-Afghan detainees who would remain under U.S. custody" even after Bagram is officially handed over to Afghan control, which the White House agreed to do last month. "The proposal is still in early stages of development," according to the LA Times. "It is the subject of quiet discussions among senior officials, and has not been submitted to the National Security Council or to Afghan officials." Major Tanya Bradsher, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said, "No decision has been made to house international terrorism suspects at Bagram."

In May, the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed the existence of a secret prison facility within the larger Bagram prison complex in Afghanistan. Abuses at the so-called "black" jail were widely documented by media outlets, including the BBC and the New York Times. The jail is run by US special forces and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

"Allowing the U.S. to hold detainees at the prison at Bagram, known to the military as the Parwan detention facility, would give American interrogators an ability to question suspected terrorists directly, an approach considered more effective," reports the LA Times.

Read the full LA Times story by Julian E. Barnes.

 

Fueling War: Pentagon Still Buying Most of Its Oil and Gas from BP

Last October, Peter Orszag, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, sent out a memo to the heads of all federal agencies ordering them to ensure that no federal funds were awarded or obligated to the community organization ACORN. Orszag's memo was a response to bipartisan legislation known as the De-fund ACORN Act, passed after right-wing activist and wanna-be pimp James O'Keefe's propaganda film sparked mass-hysteria about the community organization.

ACORN was hardly a major US government contractor--the group had received just $53 million over the course of 15 years in federal dollars, most of it in the form of funding for low income housing initiatives. ACORN has never received any money from the Department of Defense, yet Undersecretary of Defense Shay Assad, the Pentagon’s top contracting official, sent a memo to the commanders and directors of all branches of the military instructing them to cease all business with ACORN and to take “all necessary and appropriate” steps to prevent future contracts with the organization. All of this happened because ACORN was accused of some of its workers giving improper tax advice to a fake prostitute.

Contrast the Congressional response to ACORN's federal contracts with its response to BP, which does billions of dollars in business with the federal government, specifically the Pentagon. BP holds more than $2 billion in annual US defense contracts and continues to be the premiere provider of fuel to the world's largest consumer of oil and gas: the Pentagon. BP is responsible for the worst environmental crime in US history. It is responsible for the deaths of 11 oil rig workers. Attorney General Eric Holder said he is conducting both criminal and civil probes into BP's actions in the US Gulf.

And yet, there is no real, bi-partisan Congressional march to de-fund BP. The White House is reportedly considering the possibility of debarment of BP, but as of last week no formal inquiry had begun. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported, "Cutting BP off from future government contracts, though, would be an unprecedented and highly complicated move, lawyers say. BP supplies the military with nearly 12% of its fuel needs, making it the Pentagon's largest fuel supplier, with Royal Dutch Shell coming in a close second, according to the Defense Logistics Agency. 'It is not hard to block a debarment if an argument exists that it would harm the government, especially on national security grounds,' said Robert Burton, a Washington lawyer who worked as the Bush administration's top procurement official."

It isn't that there is no Congressional action happening, but rather that it is dramatically understated given the gravity of the situation and its past excitement over the fake pimp ACORN scandal. Late last month, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Defense Reauthorization bill which calls on the Secretary of Defense to reevaluate all defense contracts with BP and consider debarring BP if it is determined not to be a "responsible source." According to the Federal Acquisition Regulations, all federal contractors must meet the definition of a "responsible source," one provision of which states that the prospective contractor "has a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics."

The amendment was put forward by Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez. "There is ample evidence leading up to and including the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that BP is not a 'responsible source' and shows a consistent disregard for federal law and the lives and livelihoods of Americans," Gutierrez said. The bill is currently in the Senate.

Blackwater for Sale

After nearly a decade of working overtly and covertly for the US government across the globe, the infamous mercenary firm Blackwater is apparently for sale. The company made the announcement in a brief statement Monday followed by an even briefer statement from the company's owner, Erik Prince. "Performance doesn't matter in Washington, just politics," Prince said.

Blackwater's statement does not make clear if all of Blackwater's various entities are up for sale or just its security and training business, which currently operates under the names Xe Services and the US Training Center. Prince also owns a private intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions, an offshore mercenary operation, Greystone Limited, a construction company, Raven Development and Paravant, which has been used as a shell company to win training contracts in Afghanistan. Prince sold his aviation division earlier this year for $200 million.

In announcing Blackwater was for sale, the company stated Monday: "Xe's new management team has made significant changes and improvements to the company over the last 15 months, which have enabled the company to better serve the US government and other customers, and will deliver additional value to a purchaser."

The most interesting aspect of this story is what will happen to Blackwater's clandestine/covert work for the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command. The OGA (Other Government Agency) division of Blackwater has gone by different names over the years. Among these are: Blackwater SELECT, Blackwater PTC and, most recently XPG. It was this division of the company that Blackwater used for its role in the US drone bombing campaign. XPG holds a classified contract to provide security at seven US Special Forces sites along the Afghan/Pakistan border, for which Blackwater is paid $17,000 a day. Additionally, Prince has boasted that Blackwater controls four Forward Operating Bases in Afghanistan, including the closest US facility to Pakistan's border. Prince has also bragged that Blackwater runs a counter-narcotics force that has called in NATO air strikes in Afghanistan against suspected drug sites.

After 9-11, Prince set up what amounted to small CIA assassination teams that operated in various countries across the globe, including in Germany. In some cases, Prince says he personally bankrolled the operations, giving the Bush administration an ultimate plausible deniability machine. Evidence of Blackwater's ongoing involvement with, and access to, highly sensitive US operations was clear when two Blackwater operatives were killed in December 2009 when the CIA station at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, was bombed by a Jordanian double agent. The CIA believed that its personnel were meeting with a "golden goose" of intelligence who had recently met with Al Qaeda's number-two man, Ayman al Zawahiri.

I have heard from sources that over the past two years, Prince has shifted some of Blackwater's clandestine work to companies he does not own but which are run by former Blackwater executives or allies. Among these are Blackbird Technologies, which now employs former Blackwater executive J. Cofer Black (former head of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center) and Constellation Consulting, which is run by former Blackwater executive Enrique "Ric" Prado, a veteran of the CIA's paramilitary division, the Special Operations Group. Prado was instrumental in setting up the Blackwater-CIA assassination program.

There is no doubt Erik Prince maintains deep contacts within the US military and intelligence community, but the Blackwater name is mud. Despite the rebranding efforts, Blackwater has remained Blackwater. The sale of the company would undoubtedly represent the end of an era. But Blackwater did not rise to prominence in a vacuum and it did not create the demand for the kinds of forces and services it offers. Even if Erik Prince leaves the mercenary game, Blackwater will continue on--almost certainly under a different name and, it seems, new ownership. The type of clandestine operations and top-tier special forces operators Blackwater has provided to the US government and military will be in increasing demand in the years ahead, particularly as the Obama administration expands the operations of US special forces globally. The bottom line is that there are a finite number of top-level operators and Blackwater employed a lot of them.

I have heard from Congressional sources that the Obama administration is not enthusiastic about its ongoing relationship with Blackwater, but that the company provides services and personnel the White House has determined it cannot live without—particularly in Afghanistan. In that way, the sale of Blackwater would benefit the Obama administration.

Wikileaks Whistleblower Says Docs Show 'Almost Criminal Political Dealings'

Wired.com is reporting that a US Army intelligence analyst who allegedly claimed to be the leaker of the infamous "Collateral Murder" video to Wikileaks has been arrested and is being held in Kuwait. SPC Bradley Manning, 22, was reportedly stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer forty miles outside of Baghdad. Manning was reportedly turned in by a well-known figure in the hacker community, Adrian Lamo and arrested two weeks ago by Army CID officers in Baghdad.

Lamo told Wired that Manning contacted him last month and bragged about his role in the Wikileaks video. "Manning had access to two classified networks from two separate secured laptops: SIPRNET, the Secret-level network used by the Department of Defense and the State Department, and the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System which serves both agencies at the Top Secret/SCI level," Wired reports, adding that Manning held a Top Secret/SCI clearance. According to chat logs Lamo provided to Wired, Manning asked him, "If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?”

While Manning's arrest is certainly newsworthy, perhaps the biggest news in the Wired piece is Manning's claim to have provided massive amounts of other classified documents to Wikileaks:

He said he also leaked three other items to Wikileaks: a separate video showing the notorious 2009 Garani air strike in Afghanistan that Wikileaks has previously acknowledged is in its possession; a classified Army document evaluating Wikileaks as a security threat, which the site posted in March; and a previously unreported breach consisting of 260,000 classified US diplomatic cables that Manning described as exposing “almost criminal political back dealings.”

“Hillary Clinton, and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public,” Manning wrote.

Through its Twitter feed, Wikileaks today claimed, "Allegations in Wired that we have been sent 260,000 classified US embassy cables are, as far as we can tell, incorrect." The group also tweeted: "If Brad Manning, 22, is the "Collateral Murder" & Garani massacre whistleblower then, without doubt, he's a national hero."

Meanwhile, Lamo has spent a fair bit of time on his Twitter page responding to allegations he is a sell-out, a snitch and an informant. "I outed Brad Manning as an alleged leaker out of duty. I would never (and have never) out an Ordinary Decent Criminal. There's a difference," Lamo tweeted. In another tweet Lamo writes, "I'm heartsick for Manning and his family. I hope they can forgive me some day for doing what I felt had to be done."

Obama's Expanding Covert Wars

The Washington Post is reporting that the Obama administration has substantially expanded the role of US special operations forces across the globe as part of what the paper calls Washington's "secret war" against al Qaeda and other radical organizations. Obama, according to the paper, has increased the presence of special forces from 60 countries to 75 countries. US Special Forces, the paper reports, have about 4,000 people in countries besides Iraq and Afghanistan. "The Special Operations capabilities requested by the White House go beyond unilateral strikes and include the training of local counterterrorism forces and joint operations with them," according to the Post. "Plans exist for preemptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world, meant to be put into action when a plot has been identified, or after an attack linked to a specific group."

The expansion of special forces includes both traditional special forces, often used in training missions, and those known for carrying out covert and lethal, "direct actions." The Nation has learned from well-placed special operations sources that among the countries where elite special forces teams working for the Joint Special Operations Command have been deployed under the Obama administration are: Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan (including in Balochistan) and the Philippines. These teams have also at times deployed in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. JSOC has also supported US Drug Enforcement Agency operations in Colombia and Mexico. The frontline for these forces at the moment, sources say, are Yemen and Somalia. "In both those places, there are ongoing unilateral actions," said a special operations source. "JSOC does a lot in Pakistan too." Additionally, these US special forces at times work alongside other nations' special operations forces in conducting missions in their home countries. A US special operations source described one such action where US forces teamed up with Georgian forces hunting Chechen rebels.

One senior military official told The Washington Post that the Obama administration has given the green light for "things that the previous administration did not." Special operations commanders, the paper reports, have more direct access to the White House than they did under Bush. "We have a lot more access," a military official told the paper. "They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly."

According to the Post: "The clearest public description of the secret-war aspects of the doctrine came from White House counterterrorism director John O. Brennan. He said last week that the United States 'will not merely respond after the fact' of a terrorist attack but will 'take the fight to al-Qaeda and its extremist affiliates whether they plot and train in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond.'"

Sources working with US special operations forces told The Nation that the Obama administration's expansion of special forces activities globally has been authorized under a classified order dating back to the Bush administration. Originally signed in early 2004 by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, it is known as the “AQN ExOrd," or Al Qaeda Network Execute Order. The AQN ExOrd was intended to cut through bureaucratic and legal processes, allowing US special forces to move into denied areas or countries beyond the official battle zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The ExOrd spells out that we reserve the right to unilaterally act against al Qaeda and its affiliates anywhere in the world that they operate," said one special forces source. The current mindset in the White House, he said, is that "the Pentagon is already empowered to do these things, so let JSOC off the leash. And that's what this White House has done." He added: "JSOC has been more empowered more under this administration than any other in recent history. No question."

The AQN ExOrd was drafted in 2003, primarily by the Special Operations Command and the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict and was promoted by neoconservative officials such as former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone as a justification for special forces operating covertly--and lethally--across the globe. Part of the order provides for what a source called "hot pursuit," similar to how some state police are permitted to cross borders into another state to pursue a suspect. "That's essentially what they have where they're chasing someone in Somalia and he moves over into Ethiopia or Eritrea, you can go after him," says the source.

"The Obama administration took the 2003 order and went above and beyond," says the special forces source. "The world is the battlefield, we've returned to that," he adds, referring to the Obama administration's strategy. "We were moving away from it for a little bit, but Cambone's 'preparing the battlefield' is still alive and well. It's embraced by this administration."

Under the Bush administration, JSOC and its then-commander Stanley McChrystal, were reportedly coordinating much of their activity with vice president Dick Cheney or Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Under the Obama administration, that relationship seems to have been more formalized with the administration as a whole. That's a change, as the Post notes, from the Bush era "when most briefings on potential future operations were run through the Pentagon chain of command and were conducted by the defense secretary or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff." As a special operations source told The Nation, "It used to be the strategy was to insulate the president, now they directly interface with these people regularly."

Sources say that much of the most sensitive and lethal operations conducted by JSOC are carried out by Task Force 714, which was once commanded by Gen. McChrystal, the current commander of the war in Afghanistan. Under the Obama administration, according to sources, TF-714 has expanded and recently changed its classified name. The Task Force's budge has reportedly expanded 40% on the request of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and has added additional forces. "It was at Mullen's request and they can do more now," according to a special forces source. "You don't have to work out of the embassies, you don't have to play nice with [the State Department], you can just set up anywhere really."

While some of the special forces missions are centered around training of allied forces, often that line is blurred. In some cases, "training" is used as a cover for unilateral, direct action. "It's often done under the auspices of training so that they can go anywhere. It's brilliant. It is essentially what we did in the 60s," says a special forces source. "Remember the 'training mission' in Vietnam? That's how it morphs."

My TV Debate with Ed Koch About Israel's Gaza Flotilla Massacre

On MSNBC today, I debated former New York Mayor Ed Koch about the deadly Israeli attack on the humanitarian Flotilla attempting to deliver much needed goods to the people of Gaza, who are forced to live under a constant state of siege and blockade imposed by Israel. Among the dead is reportedly a 19-year old US citizen, Furkan Dogan, who was shot four times in the head and once in the chest.

Israel and its apologists like Mayor Koch attempt to portray the humanitarian Flotilla as terrorist-affiliated, a "hate boat" in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, "capable of smuggling large amounts of weapons" that "was trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza, not bring humanitarian aid." But Koch and the Israeli spokespeople conveniently leave out the fact that there were no weapons being smuggled on the Flotilla and that members of the Flotilla included former US diplomat Ann Wright, who helped reopen the US embassy in Kabul after 9-11 and former US ambassador to Iraq Ed Peck, as well as a member of the Israeli parliament and other international politicians and diplomats.

On the show today, I read from a list of the items Israel has banned from entering Gaza. Among these are such dangerous spices as sage, cardamom, cumin, coriander, as well as children's toys, fruit preserves, ginger, fishing rods, chocolate, fresh meat and well-known terrorist sympathizers such as horses, donkeys, goats, cattle and chicks. See a list of the banned and permitted items for yourself here [PDF].

As Dov Weisglass, an adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister, said earlier this year. 'The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet."

When I asked Koch how a goat or a horse or a children’s toy could be used as rocket to hit Israel, Koch responded by saying only, “that’s nonsense.” When I pointed out that there were respected international diplomats on the Flotilla, contrary to his characterization of it as a terrorist vessel, Koch would only say, "I don't want to argue with you."

On that front, my colleague Max Blumenthal today reports on how Israel initially claimed that "al Qaeda mercenaries" were on the Flotilla and was then forced to scrub the press release after Blumenthal and a colleague exposed it. The headline of an Israeli Defense Force press release sent out June 2 to reporters and bloggers had the shocking headline: “Attackers of the IDF soldiers found to be Al Qaeda mercenaries.” They have since changed it to: "Attackers of the IDF Soldiers Found Without Identification Papers”

During the commercial break during my debate with Koch, the former mayor called me a "terrorist supporter." I told him, "Say it on the air." He didn't. Watch the full (on-air) debate:

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